Growing up in Swampscott, Mass., Amy Kessler, '89, MA '90 hadn’t traveled farther than Washington, D.C. Now the young mother of two and wife counts five countries among her recent international trips around the globe as the senior vice president and head of Longevity Reinsurance within Prudential Retirement’s Pension Risk Transfer business.
To Kessler, who earned her undergraduate as well as master’s degree in International Economics and Finance at Brandeis International Business School (IBS), taking “intelligent risk” is paramount to success. Without it, she wouldn’t be where she is today. It is also her theme for her commencement speech for Brandeis IBS' class of 2013 on Sunday, May 19, 2013.
Among her words of wisdom and encouragement: “Never bet the farm.”
It will be easy for graduates to take heed, since Kessler comes with experience. She was a principal at Bear Stearns in 2008 when she watched the firm “unravel” due to a concentration of risk in one part of the market. What she learned the hard way has fueled her work with pension funds, to help them manage risk so the funds arrive at a more stable future than their past.
Kessler calls herself a “financial services innovator” – a nice moniker from an executive who said she did “OK” in math in grammar school. “Math didn’t make sense to me until I could graph it or do something practical with it,” said Kessler, who counts her early economics classes at Brandeis as inspiration to her being an economist.
Her expertise runs the gamut from capital markets to the innovative pension risk transfer transactions occurring in the U.K. and U.S.
She was happy working in the capital markets until she saw a need for better risk management pensions. “I jumped into the unknown,” said Kessler. “But it worked out.” Kessler ended up in the U.K. working for Swiss Re and becoming the global head of Pension ALM.
“I believe in taking personal and professional risks along the way,” said Kessler. “But you have to know what the risks are, and understand them.”
In her personal life, Kessler admits to choosing what she considers an unconventional avenue to raising a family. She lives with her husband, Daniel, and their son, 13, and daughter, 10. And while she travels “a ton”, Daniel, a pianist who works from home, is there to help the children thrive.
“My husband makes it all possible,” said Kessler. “It felt like a risk to depart from a more ‘normal accepted path,’ but it’s the right path for us and very rewarding.”
Their home includes more than one piano, and cellos and violins, which the children play. And, yes, there are private concerts – in the living room.
Does Kessler play an instrument?
“I sing,” she said. “It’s perfect.”